Council Tax: Government’s Proposed Increase

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:38 pm on 25th January 2021.

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Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 3:38 pm, 25th January 2021

It was actually the Secretary of State for Transport who told the Mayor of London that he had to increase council tax. [Interruption.] Oh yes, it was. The reason there is a funding gap in London is that Londoners have done the right thing and followed the Government advice to keep covid-safe by keeping off public transport as much as they can. Transport for London’s revenues have therefore collapsed, but the Government have refused to provide the financial support to cover that problem. I imagine the Government thought they were punishing the Mayor of London ahead of the London mayoral elections; what they have actually done is punish Londoners, and that is wrong.

The Government’s message to council tax payers is: “Pay more but get less under the Conservatives.” Last March, as the country went into lockdown, the Secretary of State made a commitment to fund councils to do what was necessary to get communities through the crisis. He was right to say that—I give him credit for doing so—but just two months later, he broke that promise.

The Conservative-led Local Government Association estimates that councils face a £2.5 billion funding gap as a result of the lost income and additional costs of supporting communities through these unprecedented circumstances over the past year. The Government’s planned council tax increase will raise just under £2 billion next year. If the Government had not broken their promise on funding, councils would already have that amount available to them. Of course, the Government threw away £10 billion on crony contracts for companies with links to senior Conservative politicians. Just a proportion of that money would have plugged councils’ funding gap entirely.

The Government’s failure over the past year has left Britain with the worst recession of any major economy and one of the highest death rates in the world. Now, with their inflation-busting tax hikes, the Government are making hard-working families pay the price for Conservative failure, and the timing really could not be worse. The Tory tax hike will land on people’s door mats in the same month that over 2 million people come off the furlough scheme. Many of those people are worried sick about their future job security. Millions more are worried about their income falling. This is no time to clobber them with a tax hike.